Despite ‘Red Alert,’ Strays Cram EV Animal Shelter - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Despite ‘Red Alert,’ Strays Cram EV Animal Shelter

October 22nd, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Despite ‘Red Alert,’ Strays Cram EV Animal Shelter

By Jason Stone


The Maricopa County Animal Care and Control’s East Valley campus seems to be bursting at the seams.

After 40 years, the facility at Rio Salado and Loop 101 in Mesa is housing too many animals in too-cramped spaces – prompting officials to sound another “code red alert” for adoptions because of overcrowding.

“This place we’re in now is just not built to handle the number of animals we see,” said Jose Santiago, spokesman for Animal Care and Control Services.

Help appears to be on the way with a planned new facility in East Mesa that Deputy County Manager Reid Spaulding said could be functional as early as late 2020.

Officials said a new facility would double its current size and be more functional for the workers and volunteers who spend countless hours there.

As it is now, 80 to 100 animals – mostly dogs – are funneled through the Rio Salado facility every day. Most of those canines are assorted colors of pit bull mixes and chihuahuas.

By year’s end, Maricopa County will have processed about 40,000 dogs through its Mesa facility and its West Valley campus at 27th Avenue and Durango Street in Phoenix. That’s second only to the nation’s most populous county, Los Angeles, which deals with about 70,000 dogs a year.

Some animals stay only a night or two, while others could remain locked in the facility for seven or eight months. That has led to overcrowding with no room for growth.

“The current East shelter simply does not meet industry standards,” said Animal Care and Control executive director Mary Martin.

A Tribune tour of the facility revealed problems such as:

An outdated ventilation system, making the humidity in summer unbearable at times.

Cracking walls around the kennels with some portions completely chipping off from the dividers between the dogs.

Birds flying into the kennels, creating safety hazards and damage.

Quick fixes aren’t possible for Animal Control, which runs on a $16-million budget, almost all of which comes from donations and license renewals. Only $750,000 of the annual county budget is used to fund the two facilities.

That led the county to authorize $1.8 million for design costs. The total cost of a new facility won’t be known until architects finish the design process, but Spaulding said similar facilities across the nation are running about $250 to $350 per square foot.

A new facility is actually the second plan supervisors have considered. When they first discussed the overcrowding at the two facilities, supervisors favored upgrading and expanding the West Valley facility into one grand campus instead of maintaining two aging ones. That would have led to the closing of the East Valley campus.

County Supervisor Steve Chucri said further research found that expanding the West Valley facility was going to cost more than expected.

“The reality is when we looked at this from 30,000 feet, how do we get the best (return on investment) for the taxpayer while continuing an important function to the customer service?” Chucri said.

Chucri said he also heard from constituents who favored keeping a facility in the East Valley.

That led officials to eye a potential new campus on county land near Mesa Drive and Baseline Road. Spaulding said the front-runner for the location is the site of the former PNI warehouse that used to house presses for the Arizona Republic.

“We already have the land, so it’s a perfect site,” Spaulding said.

The kennels in a new facility would be bigger, although it would likely hold the same number of animals it does now. But the hundreds of workers and volunteers will have better access points, better equipment and easier ways for the community to adopt.

“We will be a true full-service facility,” Spaulding said.

The new facility would allow potential owners to interact with the dogs they may want to adopt, something there’s no room for now.

“You’ve got to take a dog out and play with the dog to find out if you’re going to bond with it,” Santiago said. “We could do that at a new facility.”

Adoptions are running between $25 and $300, depending on the size of the dog. It includes a dog’s vaccination, any medical treatment it may have needed and an implanted microchip.

While waiting for more breathing room, Santiago said the East Valley facility will continue to manage the overcrowding best it can. The county is working with apartment managers across the Valley to help open the door for pets from some of the complexes that aren’t so pet-friendly at the moment.

And Santiago said East Valley residents can help the current overcrowding problem by keeping up to date with their pet registration and always adopting animals instead of buying them at pet stores or from a breeder.

If there’s any good news about the current problem, it’s that not many dogs are euthanized there. Santiago said only severely aggressive, sick or ill dogs are put down, giving the facility a designation as a “no-kill” shelter.

“We do everything we can before we consider euthanizing them,” Santiago said.

To be considered a “no-kill” shelter, it must have a survival rate of at least 80 percent. The East Valley facility is well above that mark at 95 percent.

To adopt an animal, log on to or visit one of the two shelters in person.